PR and Ad Agency Life: Why Clients Ask Stupid Questions – and How to Avoid Them
By Rodger Roeser, President, The Eisen Agency
There’s no such thing as a stupid question, right? Well, there is. They also say the customer is always right. I want to know who “they” are, because frankly they are wrong, and it’s hurting businesses – particularly those in the agency world. If you work for a PR or advertising agency, read this article so you can nod your head and maybe laugh, but if you work with a firm (i.e.: you’re the client, or thinking of becoming one), read this and save yourself and your agency some headaches. You’ll like the results of a great, mutually beneficial relationship.
And, if you’ve gone through 5 agencies in 5 years – I’d start with a good look in the mirror, not at the firms. So read this. After all, you want the firm you hire to do great things so you look good, right? Right. So read and learn, because while it’s indeed important the agency understand your business, it’s equally as important that you understand at least something about there’s, fair?
What’s Going On Out There?
I’m not exactly certain what is happening in the in house marketing world, or perhaps it’s just that I’m older, wiser and clearly less patient, but I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend – many in house teams (not all, so save your letters and calls) are far less knowledgeable about marketing, particularly basic marketing understanding, than they ever used to be. Even basic things seem to escape the in house marketing person. Why? Because the person hiring the marketing person knows even less about marketing than the marketing person. This is causing ever increasing levels of frustration both between the client and the agency, but also between the in house marketing “leader” and “the boss.” It all comes down to some basic knowledge and asking better questions.
If you’re “the boss” hiring an internal marketing person, may I suggest you consult with a marketing expert to help vet the candidates so you can get the right person for what you need. Someone coming in to lead the marketing efforts of a firm should have a very, very solid grasp of marketing “things” and be able to provide clear leadership and direction, both strategically and tactically.
Let’s Start With Some Basics
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of marketing “tools” that are needed by an in house team or an agency to do their job. If you hire internally, keep in mind that you’re going to either need to purchase these tools or hire a firm that has them. Doing the job without them or trying to “save money because you don’t know what that is, so obviously they don’t need it,” is stupid. These tools can indeed cost tens of thousands of dollars, so keep that in mind when hiring internally, sort of like hiring a doctor but not buying a stethoscope.
A few of the basic ones include media relations software like MMI or Vocus or Cision, as well as items like ProfNet. All critical to the job, so if you don’t know what these are, you need to. Wire services, such as PRNewswire and BusinessWire also cost additional fees when you place a release on the wire. If you hired someone to do marketing and they don’t know what these are – you hired poorly, and that’s your fault. These are just a few of the media relations, tools. Design tools, such as InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator are also critical tools, and while it may not be critical you know exactly “how” to use these (unless you’re the graphic designer, of course), you should have some general understanding of what you can and can’t do, and perhaps most importantly, how long it takes to “do” it. For example, there is no “make it pop” button on CS5.
Outside of media relations (don’t ever call it “PR” when you mean media relations, that also makes you look stupid) and design, there are a host of tools to use for CRM and social media, such as Constant Contact or Exact Target, as well as social tools such as Blogger and HootSuite and Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (literally among hundreds of others). Understand them, how they work and again, what they are designed to do and to not do. Look at other blogs and social sites, see how businesses are using them well and frankly not so well – far too many businesses are so incredibly self-serving with their social correspondence that no one would ever read them.
A Little More Strategic Thinking, Please
Perhaps the most important item is a general strategic understanding that if YOU are the marketing person and you don’t understand these things (most if not all good agencies not only understand these but are expert with these) don’t dictate to the agency how to “tactically do” their job, particularly when you know virtually nothing about it. That causes frustration, and we have a frustration free policy. The most important thing for both teams to understand is “what are you trying to accomplish.” What are the goals. What are you trying to do. You may want to share that.
I also encourage the in house team to have a solid understanding of the brand. If you don’t hire a firm (I recommend The Eisen Agency) to clarify and communicate that. Simple exercise, give the leadership team an index card and ask them to write down your businesses brand. If they don’t all have the same answer (they won’t, by the way) or it’s not consistent for a customer or client, you have what we experts call B.O.D. = Brand Operational Dissonance and you need to get that looked at.
Empower yourself to have some basic understanding, it will make you a better marketing person if for no other reason, you have understanding and can give much clearer direction. The clearer the direction, the friendlier the invoicing and the time with the firm. And without a clear direction or brand, everything else is tactical gobbedly gook without any direction. You’re smarter than that, right? Remember, no firm wants to fail. You don’t to fail. You don’t want the call to the agency (or when the agency gets your call) to be cringe-worthy. They want the relationship to be rewarding, but when the direction is confusing, or the firm is forced to explain in granular detail something the in house “marketing expert” should clearly already know or understand is very frustrating.
25 Years in a Few Paragraphs
And, while I cannot condense 25 years of marketing experience into a paragraph that explains “why” for everything, but – here are several basic nuggets of knowledge you need:
Press releases don’t earn press. So, when you ask an agency to send one out, don’t complain about the lack of coverage (particularly if YOU have never sent a release out). They’re not designed to earn press, in fact, our firm doesn’t even call them that – we call them company announcements. A good story, shared with a good media contact earns press, not a press release. If you don’t have a good story, do something that makes a good story. Press releases are good for two things: SEO and scrap paper. Remember, there are no guarantees with media relations, it is not the press’s job to cover your business. Advertising is guaranteed, so if you want guarantees, buy an ad.
And don’t ever say “PR is free.” Also stupid. PR is not free. PR is not publicity, nor is it media relations. PR is “everything” about you and your business to your publics. It is your brand, your reputation, you all encompassing “you.” It must be defined, nurtured, protected.
Consistency, quality and constancy in your marketing is what works. Doing something once and wondering why leads are coming in is (yep, you know I’m going to say it) stupid. It requires ongoing work and effort, regularly mailers with follow up calls (for professional services, not a candy bar, obviously). It requires diligent branded communications on your social sites that are engaging and interesting to your intended public with which you are trying to relate. Quality here is key, if you send out garbage a lot, it’s still garbage. Messages must be clear, words must be few, benefits to the public must stand out, and a call to action must be simple to understand.
Get yourself a book that has all your business codes, such as website analytics, FTP codes, hosting services and passwords, social passwords and the like. I am stunned by all the “in house” teams that don’t have their passwords written down. Person quits or gets fired, and no one knows how to access anything. Have a master binder, check your analytics and provide reports monthly. If you’re not tracking and measuring, make sure someone is.
If you’re unwilling to test an ad or a concept because “it costs too much” you may only blame yourself if it doesn’t work. While testing won’t guarantee success, it will insulate against moving full steam ahead on what is a really bad idea.
And finally, yes, your marketing collateral probably sucks. It probably sucks really, really badly. Why? Because most does. It’s overly wordy, overly complex because the people that wrote it get it, but the buyer has no idea what you’re talking about, it’s unengaging, probably not well designed, and frankly just plain bad. Use graphs and charts to illustrate ideas. Don’t go into too much detail, give overviews, concepts and benefits to the user. Use big pictures, with lots of space. Many words = confusing = tune out. Do something interesting and creative that allows your sales team to further the discussion and the engagement. Collateral does not sell, salespeople do.
Drum Roll Please
And finally, in the tradition of lists, the following represent really, really stupid client questions, so if you have asked these in the past or were just about to ask your agency or a prospective agency this question, stop. Because when you do ask these questions, it makes you look (ready for it…..) stupid. And you don’t want to be stupid, do you? Of course not.
1. How much does it cost to make a website?
2. I don’t have a lot of money but I just need to generate awareness. How much does that cost?
3. How much is a press release?
4. How do we correspond to our clients that don’t have a computer?
5. Can you just get us some PR for this?
6. We don’t have any budget to advertise, just get this in the paper.
7. Our email seems to be down, will you look at our website?
8. What is the ROI of this folder?
9. If we do this, how many clients will we get?
10. Why is my business not on top of Google?
And I promise, by following a few simple rules, understanding marketing a little better (particularly if YOU are the marketing person) and working collaboratively with your agency you’ll have a more rewarding experience, get more done, and rainbows will follow you around. You may be surprised at the level of work, the smiles, and maybe even the results.
Remember, you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so learn the craft. Understand some basics, and if you don’t, either get out of the marketing department, or learn. There are tremendously good websites out there that share some great marketing knowledge, such as Ragans.com or MarketingProfs.com or of course, CommPro.biz and my personal favorite, CultOfTheBlueTongue.blogspot.com.
Understand that not everything you do in marketing will work. Understand there may not be a “data driven reason” why on things. Understand that “creative” is highly subjective, like music. There is no “right” music, well, KISS, but in general, there is no right answer. Understand the use of press releases and media relations and bylined articles (like this one, for example – see, I’m in the press – no press release). Understand how your agency works and yes, they probably charge money for work – agencies are weird that way.
In the end, you’re in charge, so be smart. Stop focusing on the minutia and set direction and strategy. It doesn’t really matter “how” it happens, as long as it works. If it doesn’t work – fire the agency (or your marketing person). Because remember, if you dictate “how” and it fails – you are to blame.
Rodger Roeser is the president and owner of Greater Cincinnati’s premier marketing consultancy, The Eisen Agency. The multiple award winning firm provides executive level marketing communications strategies and tactical assistance to develop programs that provide lift for a business or organization. Learn more at www.TheEisenAgency.com.